The Work of a Peer Support Specialist
By Elyssa Hamilton, Peer Support & Communications Specialist/ Volunteer Coordinator
As a peer support specialist, I draw strength from my personal journey through substance use and mental health conditions, walking alongside others on similar paths. This career allows me to transform my hardships, self-pity, and shame into something beautiful and productive.
At Recovery Café Longmont, I guide members in unraveling shame and focusing on self-investment. Throughout this process, I emphasize each person’s inherent worthiness of love, dignity, respect, and healing. Together, we define goals and explore resources, fostering nurturing accountability.
To illustrate a typical workday, I want to share a special interaction I recently had in the Café. At the start of the day, a vibrant woman joined us for the first time inquiring about membership. With an endearingly eccentric demeanor, she carried an air of solitude, yet her eyes revealed a deep longing for connection.
Like many of our members, the woman struggled with maintaining relationships and turned to substances for comfort. She believed that she never truly belonged anywhere. I described membership to Recovery Café as having a group of unlikely friends that belong to each other. We celebrate the wins, provide support for the losses, and navigate life together.
Initially hesitant to engage with the group, we had a one-on-one conversation, sharing painful and joyful moments. This is often the highlight of my day — when someone invites me to join them in an emotional memory so they feel less alone.
We joined the larger group for meditation, announcements, and lunch. My new friend eagerly connected with others, bonding over a love for art. At the end of the day, I offered a hug — a gesture she embraced with the gratitude of someone who has been long deprived of compassion. She hugged a few others and danced out the door with the joy of newfound friendships.
This was the story of one of many individuals I’ve seen reinvigorated for life over a matter of hours because of the power of community. I held space for about 10 members that day, each carrying their own burdens. I was so filled with love for my job that I forgot I had woken up that morning so weighed down by a sudden onset of depression that I contemplated staying in bed all day. This is the magic of peer support. When I am able to get out of my own head and help others, the shared joy frees me from the confines of my mind. Then, I am able to show others how I have become a part of rather than apart from. I keep what I have by giving it away. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.